By Sonala Olumhense
Just over one year ago, I endorsed General Muhammadu Buhari for President of Nigeria. I argued that in view of the monumental corruption mountain before Nigeria, he was the best candidate on the 2011 presidential slate.
The following month, Nigerians stepped into the examination hall. One Attahiru Jega, given the job of heading the electoral commission, designed the hall in the form of a ballot box.alt
Now, some of us cannot prove we have ever visited a classroom, let alone that we have ever taken an academic examination of any kind. Many people presumptuously consider an honorary academic title to be no different from a chieftaincy title, so we take it when they give it to us—or buy one when they do not—and place it in front of our names. It is an ego crisis.
An examination hall tests, first, your nerves. Then it tests what you really know. What it tests most of all is the relevance of what you know to what is asked of you. The best student is not necessarily the most informed one, but he or she who can best synchronize what is known with what is asked.
One year ago, in that examination hall, the actual question before Nigeria was: Who among the men on the electoral slate for the presidency is “Moses”?
Moses was the Biblical prophet who, having first laughed when the Lord told him he would lead the Israelites out of Egypt, led them into being trapped on the banks of the Red Sea, the Egyptian army advancing menacingly upon them. With nowhere to go, and the lamentation and crying of the people ringing in his ears, Moses turned to the Lord, who was surprised Moses did not know the power of the staff in his hand.
Moses then performed one of the most historic of feats: he lifted his right hand, the staff in it, over the Red Sea. That action parted the waters, creating a wall of water to the right and to the left until every Israelite had walked through the river bed and crossed the sea. The sea was conquered; the Israelis were on solid ground again and could continue their journey to the Promised Land.
The Egyptians, no longer particularly surprised at that time by the feats the Mighty God of the Israelis could perform, went in after the unarmed targets on the other bank.
Moses lowered his right hand, and as the Israelis watched from one bank and Pharoah from the other, the wall of water to the right and to the left through the Red Sea cascaded down and buried the powerful Egyptian army. That night, the Israelis found new voices and new songs in praise of God. Horse and rider he threw into the sea, they chorused.
By 2011, Nigeria had endured over a decade of the most decadent “governance” known to a modern state. The opportunity to escape was there, on the bank of the Red Sea, the Egyptian army advancing in the form of an uncertain future on the platform of business as usual.
But where was Moses? Who was Moses on the presidential slate that was capable of feats of incredible strength? I argued it was General Buhari. Moses was no angel, but he had the staff in his right hand. Buhari had the credential and strength of incorruptibility; he could lift his hand against our true foe.
But there may have been no fuel to power the generators in that examination hall, because on the examination sheet, many people do not appear to have seen the question about Moses at all.
Instead, they returned, saying, “I voted for Goodluck Jonathan, not the People’s Democratic Party.”
In other words, they thought it was possible to separate Pharoah from his army; that the consequence was prettier than the cause. They did not understand the question; better still, they pretended they did not understand the question.
One year later, ours is a country in free-fall. We all know about the violence that is engulfing the country. Jonathan lacks the foggiest clue as to how to solve the problem, lurching from one errant policy pronouncement to another; and from one contradictory speech to another.
This lack of capacity is deeply-rooted in his failure to grasp both the concept of leadership and the issues of the moment. Jonathan’s understanding of leadership is power; he does not see the responsibility component.
Power, not responsibility, saw him budget for three additional jets as soon as he came into office. Power, not responsibility is why he has been quick to load up the jets at every opportunity.
Power, not responsibility, is what makes a preachy president refuse to declare his assets as demanded by both law and political climate.
Mr. Jonathan has plenty to say, but he does not take action; he speaks about taking action. He does not implement reports; he files reports. He does not act as if he has a term of office in his hands; he is thinking about a second term. He talks about “transformation,” but how can you transform when you have not demonstrated you are superior to what you want to transform?
In January, Mr. Jonathan said “Happy New Year” to his compatriots by announcing the withdrawal of oil “subsidies.” It has become clear now that on that subject, few government officials were being honest or even knew what they were talking about. What has transpired since then, especially through the report of the Farouk Lawan-led Ad hoc committee of the House of Representatives, is confirmation that corruption has become a vast and entrenched power within the government. Corruption may be to Nigeria what cocaine is to Colombia or Peru.
In Mr. Jonathan’s hands, in just one year, we have stopped metering corruption in the millions. More and more quotations and declarations are in the billions and the trillions. The cats are growing into lions, and catfish into sharks.
And yet we must keep in mind that the mandate of the committee was only “To Verify and Determine the Actual Subsidy Requirements and Monitor The Implementation of the Subsidy Regime in Nigeria,” over two years (2009-2011) and in one area of the industry. That is, the committee looked only at a puddle, not the river beyond, which includes the eight years that Obasanjo ran Petroleum Resources because he was the only Nigerian good enough to manage the Ministry. Beyond that little river is the ocean, which includes and explains why our country is the equivalent of a giant that has been amputated at the knees.
Is Jonathan the answer? His record argued differently. He has now squandered another year demonstrating that those of us who said he was wrong were right. He is so out of his depth that when he says he wants to transform the country, he reminds us transformation is not always positive.
When you think about it, we may well find that Jonathan was the best presidential candidate in 2011 after all…for the task of running Nigeria aground, if the hope is that something noble will rise from the ruins. In that regard, I can write no better than Dr. Reuben Abati did, in “Hurry Up, Jonathan,” on May 14, 2010:
“…[Jonathan] has fallen so early into the error of doing business as usual,” Abati, now Jonathan’s spokesman, lamented. “He is the ultimate pacifier. He seems determined to run a government of the Godfathers. Every man who imagines himself to be a custodian of the Nigerian legacy, even only a portion of it, seems to have a share of his government…But can President Jonathan just please, hurry up and focus on the important issues of national interest, the same issues that he himself has identified to start with?”